Like clockwork, dark spots the size of Earth speckle our sun.
Sunspots are the relatively cool, dark blemishes that appear on the sun's otherwise super-fiery and flawless surface. To scientists, these planet-sized phenomena indicate the location where strong magnetic fields that power solar flares and coronal mass ejections (CMEs) emerge from the sun's interior. The number of sunspots increases and decreases over time in a regular, approximately 11-year cycle, called the sunspot cycle. During each cycle sunspots migrate from the sun's mid-latitude regions towards the equator, with the highest number observed in any given cycle designated "solar maximum" and the lowest number designated "solar minimum." Each cycle varies dramatically in number, with some solar maxima being so low as to be almost indistinguishable from the preceding minimum. Learn more about the sunspot cycle and see actual footage of sunspots in the videos below.